Bible Study: Galatians 3:1-4:7

Getting Started with Galatians 3:1-4:7

Begin with prayer: Ask God to make your heart pure, soft, and undivided. Confess your sins so you can receive his mercy and grace. Humble yourself so you can hear his voice. Release your worries so you can rest in his presence.

First read: Read without pausing, to get an overall sense of the chapter.

Second read: Make a note of any words, phrases, or verses that are personally encouraging, convicting, and/or confusing. It is a good thing to approach Scripture with questions!

This chapter can be tedious! My encouragement is that you wade through the details slowly, soaking up what you can. Read this passage several times. Allow the text to speak for itself, do your best to identify your assumptions — and don’t let them cloud the meaning of the text. At the end of the journey, this passage teaches some of the most important, essential, foundational truths about the life of faith. Engaging this chapter may feel like a marathon, but the finish line is worth it!

Re-read 3:1-14.

[  ] Why does Paul call the Galatians foolish?

[  ] How would you describe Paul’s tone? Do you think it is too harsh? Why or why not?

[  ] Survey the basic structure of 3:1-14, noting the following:

[a] How many questions does Paul ask?
[b] How many times does Paul mention works of the law (or works)?
[c] How many times does Paul mention believe (or faith)?

[  ] Why does it matter that Christ was portrayed as crucified? How does that support the point that Paul is making?

[  ] Why does Paul bring up Abraham? Isn’t Abraham “old news,” without much relevance for a life of faith in Christ?

[  ] Re-read 3:10-14. In your opinion, what does it look like, practically, when a person relies on the law? In chapter 2, what did it look like when Peter “relied on the law?”

Re-read 3:15-22.

[  ] Which came first, God’s promises to Abraham or the Law? Why is the order significant?

[  ] Why was the law given? Why wasn’t the promise to Abraham enough for God to have a relationship with his people?

[  ] Since the Law reveals God’s will for his people, why doesn’t the Law “impart life?” Since the law doesn’t give life, why did God give his people the Law?

Re-read 3:23-4:7.

“The law was our guardian” — A guardian was a specific role in ancient times. Wealthy families would hire a tutor to prepare their children for adulthood. Paul uses this imagery to teach the primary role of the Law, which was to prepare us for what’s next: faith in Jesus.

[  ] Given the context of everything you’ve read so far in Galatians, how is 3:28 significant? Why is the unity of the church so important?

[  ] In 4:7, Paul tells us that we are no longer a slave. Based on this passage, what were we once a slave to? How does the text support your answer?

[  ] Take a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture. What does this passage teach about the following:

Jesus:

Works / Works of the Law:

Believing / Faith:

The Law:

Abraham:

The Spirit:

Bible Study: Galatians chapter 2

Getting Started with Galatians 2

Begin with prayer: Ask God to make your heart pure, soft, and undivided. Confess your sins so you can receive his mercy and grace. Humble yourself so you can hear his voice. Release your worries so you can rest in his presence.

First read: read without pausing, to get an overall sense of the chapter.

Second read: make a note of any words, phrases, or verses that are personally encouraging, convicting, and/or confusing. It is a good thing to approach Scripture with questions!

[ ] At the close of chapter one, Paul went to Syria and Cilica– two areas that were hundreds of miles North of Jerusalem. Chapter 2 picks up fourteen years later in Jerusalem. Create a summary of the events in this chapter by making a list of the people, places, and events.

Historical Background: Understanding Circumcision
Circumcision was a Jewish practice that began in Genesis 17 as a reminder of God’s covenant with his people. “Uncircumcised” was a term that referred to Gentiles, all non-Jews. In Acts 15, certain teachers made circumcision a requirement for salvation. Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed with this teaching because it contradicted the biblical teaching of salvation by faith, a central theme in this letter. Jesus did all the work for our salvation on the cross, and we are called to believe in him. Salvation can’t be achieved by good works, it can only be received by faith in Jesus.

Re-read 2:1-10

[ ] How do you reconcile 2:2 (“I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain”) with 1:10 (“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God”)? If Paul wasn’t looking for approval from the leaders in Jerusalem, why did he go to them to see if he was preaching the right message?

[ ] Verse four speaks of false believers, what was their incorrect beliefs?

[ ] Isn’t belief a personal thing, meaning that it’s okay for anyone to believe what ever they want? Explain why you feel the way you do.

[ ] Paul will speak directly to the topic of freedom later in in this letter. Based on everything you’ve read so far, what does Paul mean by freedom?

[ ] In your opinion, how is integrity connected to influence? Is it important for a person’s words to be backed up by their actions? Does a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude work? Why or why not?

[ ] In verse 5, Paul writes, “We did not give in to them for a moment,” (meaning allow Titus to be circumcised), “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” The integrity of Paul (and Titus) was directly connected to their teaching. If they preached “salvation by faith,” but if their actions didn’t reflect this teaching, they would have no credibility with the Galatian believers. In your opinion, why are people tempted to take shortcuts with their integrity? In your own life, how would you rate your personal integrity?

[ ] Respond to this statement: “It’s only hypocrisy if you get caught.” Is that true or false? Why?

[ ] Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles (uncircumcised) and Peter was called to preach to the Jews (circumcised). In your opinion, why do you think this distinction existed? Shouldn’t Paul and Peter (and therefore, us) simply preach to everyone?

Re-read 2:11-21.

[ ] Paul said that Peter (Cephas) “stood condemned.” Why do you think Paul opposed him?

[ ] Do you think it Paul treated Peter (Cephas) fairly? Why did Paul confront him publicly? In what way was Peter a hypocrite?

[ ] Peter changed his behavior, becoming a hypocrite because he was afraid of what the Jews might think. Under what kinds of situations are you tempted to compromise your integrity?

[ ] In your opinion, what’s the big deal about salvation by works or by faith? Why does it matter that salvation is only found by faith in Jesus?

[ ] In your opinion, why is Paul making a big scene over this issue? Sine we are saved by faith, wouldn’t God just forgive Paul of his hypocrisy?

[ ] Justified means “made right with God.” Based on this chapter, how is a person justified? What words or phrases from the text support your answer?

[ ] In verse 17 Paul asks, “Does Christ promote sin?” (a) In your own words, how does Paul answer this question? (b) In your opinion, why does Paul raise this issue? Does this question even need to be asked?

[ ] This chapter highlights the power of influence:

Paul retained his integrity to have a positive influence with the Galatians (2:5).
Barnabas was negatively influenced by others and became a hypocrite
(a) Who has (or had) a big influence in your life? (b) Who are some people with whom you have influence?

[ ] What are some practical changes you might make to be a better influence on others?

 

 

What’s missing from this Bible study? Comment below.

Who is Jesus?

He is God

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. Matthew 26:63-64

He became a person

The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14

He taught with authority

They were amazed at his teaching, for he taught as one who had real authority– quite unlike the teachers of religious law. Mark 1:22

He healed the sick

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Matthew 4:23

He hung out with the outcasts

That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. The Pharisees were indignant. “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” they asked his disciples. Matthew 9:10-11

He got angry at the religious fakes

How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs– beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Matthew 23:27

He was persecuted unfairly

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward. Matthew 26:59-60

He was tempted in every way

. . . for he [Jesus] faced all of the same temptations we do . . . Hebrews 4:15

He never made a mistake

. . . he [Jesus] did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
But you know that he [Jesus] appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 1 John 3:5

He died, rose from the dead, and continues to live to this day

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:20

He made it possible to have a relationship with God

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

He can sympathize with our struggles

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses . . . Hebrews 4:15

He Loves Us

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Ephesians 3:19

Three principles from Jesus for every mission

Jesus said:

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:8-11)

Every mission requires:

  • FAITH. We must rely on God to provide. With abundant resources, it is more difficult to trust God, but not impossible. Everything belongs to God.
  • FELLOWSHIP. We must trust others to receive mutual benefit. In this example from scripture, one person provides shelter and the other provides peace. We are better together, and we need others to pursue God’s calling in our lives.
  • INFLUENCE. We must make a difference by what we do. When the impact becomes minimal, the mission is finished.

One must be careful when interpreting narratives in scripture. On one hand, we cannot make everything into an allegory (“we must take a staff as a reminder that we lean upon God for strength.”) On the other hand, we cannot interpret the literal historical events as timeless princples (“No one doing the work of God can ever have an extra shirt…or money.”). Therefore we must take great care to make sure that other scriptures support our conclusions.

FAITH

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. (Deuteronomy 8:3-4)

FELLOWSHIP

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21)

 

INFLUENCE

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6)

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

 

Bible Study: Galatians chapter 1

Getting Started with Galatians 1

Begin with prayer: Ask God to make your heart pure, soft, and undivided. Confess your sins so you can receive his mercy and grace. Humble yourself so you can hear his voice. Release your worries so you can rest in his presence.

First read: read without pausing, to get an overall sense of the chapter.

Second read: make a note of any words, phrases, or verses that are personally encouraging, convicting, and/or confusing. It is a good thing to approach Scripture with questions!

 

Re-read 1:1-5, out loud if possible.

In just a few words, Paul sets the tone for his letter to the Galatian churches. What does his introduction say specifically about Paul? God the Father? Jesus?

Paul:

God the Father:

Jesus:

 

Re-read 1:6-10.

In your own words, how would you describe Paul’s tone and feeling?

According to this passage, what were the core issues or problems facing Paul’s audience? Why was Paul “astonished?” What are the specific words from the text that support your answer?

In your opinion, was Paul too harsh? Why or why not?

In this passage, Paul talks about the gospel, but he doesn’t yet define it for us. In your opinion, based on what you’ve already learned, how would you define the gospel in a single sentence?

For Paul’s original audience, the ancient church was “quickly deserting” Jesus and turning to a different gospel. In our world, what are some things that move people away from Jesus? In your opinion, what are some false messages about Jesus?

Have you ever been “like Paul,” meaning, do you know someone who has wandered from Jesus? What happened? Do you think God might use you to encourage that person? If so, how?

Have you ever been “like Paul’s audience,” meaning that you have wandered from what you know to be true about Jesus? What happened? How were you pulled away? What did you do to return? (Or, what could it look like for you to return?)

 

Re-read 1:11-24.

In this passage, Paul talks a lot about his life: before Christ, his calling, and his ministry. Compile a list of facts about Paul’s life, as if you were making a biography.

Based on your study of this passage, what is the primary theme about Paul and the Gospel?

In the last section, you wrote a definition for the word, “gospel.” Is there anything in this passage which would enhance or change your definition?

Why is it important that the gospel is “not of human origin?” Why is this teaching personally significant?

Paul’s confidence was grounded in the fact that his calling was from God. His goal was to please God and not people. Based on your experience, why do so many people work for the approval of other people? In your opinion, why to we, the human race, care so much about what others think?

Before Paul knew Jesus, he worked hard to destroy the church. After coming to faith in Jesus, Paul spent his entire life building up the church. In your own life, what kinds of changed have you seen? What transformation has happened because of your faith in Jesus?

Surviving the Sting of Rejection [updated]

No one likes rejection. It’s sting is so painful because it’s personal.

Get a black eye from an injustice and it’s because the world isn’t fair….rage against the world!
Get knocked down from a rejection and it’s because I’m not good enough….you can try to rage against the world, but you always end up attacking yourself.

How do you respond when you experience rejection? These waters aren’t fun to swim in, but the reflection is worth the effort. Here’s how I typically respond to rejection. Fair warning, this isn’t a delightful list:

Retreat—I engage my friends, but withdraw from my enemies (or “non-friends”). When I’m rejected, I retreat. I won’t even argue when I’m rejected because I feel like disagreement is a gift for my friends. (I’m so opinionated, I’ve got plenty to give! HA.). Isolation feels like the best way to minimize the painful and poisonous effects of rejection. And while this may be a common response, it’s counter productive. We are deceiving ourselves if we think life is better spent alone. For me, maturity refuses to retreat and I choose to engage.

Rage—I rage at the (apparent) injustice of not being accepted. In the universe named “Matt,” there’s no logical reason why I wouldn’t be chosen. I mean, I’d choose me, so everyone else should do the same? For me, maturity rejects ego and chooses humility.

Devalued—I create a list of all the reasons I must not be good enough to be accepted. For me, maturity shifts the focus, to seeking approval from God rather than others.

Comparison—I begin to think, “If only I was different, like someone else who was accepted, then I could have avoided the rejection.” The feelings and thoughts left in the wake of rejection are paradoxical. On one hand, nothing about me needs to be changed, on the other hand, if I was different, the rejection wouldn’t have happened. For me, maturity means learning how God is changing me rather than becoming a duplicate copy of someone else.

Flee to the familiar—This response isn’t negative. Rejection in one area of my life pushes me to the comfort of other relationships, ones that are trusted and true. This response is different from retreating because it’s a reminder of the good relationships that already exist in my life. We are called to carry one another’s burdens, and it’s ok to let the trusted carry our burdens.

Demonize—I can attack the rejector, listing out their countless flaws and innumerable foolishnesses. Some of  are real, but many are imagined. Truth is that nothing clouds judgment and creates bias like rejection. For me, maturity means withholding judgement; and when this is not possible, it means withholding ACTION based on on that judgement.

Self-Praise—When I’m rejected, I’ll counteract the “not good enough” feelings (devalued, above) with all of my achievements and success—some of which are real, but many are imagined. Nothing inflates the ego like a rejection. For me, maturity means submission to God according to Romans 12:3, seeking a sober self assessment.

Re-define—Near the end of my response to rejection, I work to burry it. I re-write history by reinterpreting the rejection as ignorance. I haven’t been rejected, just misunderstood. I land on thinking, “They weren’t worth the effort of explaining myself anyhow.” For me, maturity means avoiding the pity party, and trying to understand what happened by making up stuff that isn’t true.

What an Ugly List!

Maybe you are thinking, “That’s more nasty than the scorpion at the top of this post.” Yea, I agree.

There are tons of unhealthy ways to respond to rejection. Many people try to pretend it didn’t hurt (this is one response I don’t have). Without the self-insight that comes from reflection, our rationalizations will run rampant and the self-deceptions will quickly become self-destructive.

We can’t eliminate rejection—we live in an imperfect world.
However, we can mitigate the damage done to our souls and relationships.

Let’s take our rejection to the foot of the cross. Surrendering, confessing, resting in his perfect love–a love that is utterly rejectionless.

 

 

 

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If you felt like this post would help someone, share it. Better yet, put it into your own words and encourage someone.

 

Bible Study: Psalm 23

One of our small groups recently used the Psalms Bible study (download here for free) and decided to also study Psalm 23. I wrote the following to help guide their personal reflection and group discussion.

 

Psalm 23

The twenty-third Psalm is a classic! The imagery is simple, yet powerful and profound. It is easy to read for the first time, yet the psalm’s depth allows for a lifetime of reading and reflection without ever running dry. This psalm is a well the soul can return to time after time, secure in the promise of renewal.

Begin with prayer, thanking God for his goodness and blessings. Confess your sins and ask him to make your heart pure. Beg for wisdom and cultivated an open heart so that he might draw you closer to him.

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Table — In the original usage, this referred to a leather mat spread on the ground upon which food was placed.

Rod and Staff— “Palestinian shepherd normally carried two implements, a club (or rod) to fend off wild beasts and a crook (or staff) to guide and control the sheep.” (Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 207).)

Anoint—Literally, “make fat” with oil. The imagery of excess is paralleled with the cup that is overflowing. In the Bible, an anointing was special, signifying that the person (or object) was chosen and set aside for a purpose.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

After reading this Psalm, what was personally encouraging, inspiring, or uplifting? What new insight, lesson, or teaching did you learn? Did this psalm raise any questions or confusion for you? If so, what are they?

According to this psalm, what specifically does it mean for the Lord to be a Shepherd? What actions and promises does the shepherd make?

In our world, who or what can take the place of the Lord as our Shepherd? What are some common things people follow and trust?

Expressing a deep sense of contentment, the Psalmist says, “I lack nothing” (NIV). In your opinion, how did he win the battle against greed and envy? Why is contentment so difficult for people to attain?

What does it mean, the a the Shepherd acts “for his name’s sake?”

The Shepherd leads the psalmist to “green pastures” and “darkest valleys.” How can it be both? In your opinion, why isn’t it only green pastures and quiet waters?

Share a definition of fear. What are some common things many people fear? In your opinion, why is fear so powerful? According to this psalm, what is the antidote to fear?

How does verse 6 describe the life and after-life for those under the care of the shepherd?

In your own life, what do you need most from the Shepherd?

  • To be content
  • To be led
  • To be refreshed
  • To be free from fear
  • Something else?

Summarize, in your own words, the significance of this psalm in a single sentence.

Respond to the following summary, what changes would you make?
“No matter what is happening in our lives, we can find contentment and comfort from the presence and promises of the Shepherd.”

Elements of Effective Evaluation

It’s hard to look back and learn from the past, especially when we’re looking forward to the next thing. Here are a few habits that I believe are essential for an effective debrief:

HONESTY: Evaluation isn’t helpful if it’s not true. It’s great to be an optimist, but not at the expense of facing the hard truths. Actually, that’s not optimism, it’s denial. Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t accomplish anything other than more disaster. Getting better is more important than feeling good in the moment … and over the long haul, honest debriefs will lead to feeling great.

IMPERSONAL: If you are working with a team, everyone ought to be committed to growth and improvement. This means a criticism/critique/feedback shouldn’t be a personal attack. Evaluation takes courage, which is why it is very rare.

OFTEN: Everything that is important ought to be debriefed, even if the evaluation is very short. Ministry programs, events, retreats, meetings, and even significant conversations ought to be looked at to gain lessons for the future.

SOON: Do your evaluation sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the less you remember, which means you’ll fall back on your assumptions rather than what actually happened.

STRATEGIC: There is an important difference between observation and evaluation. An observation states a perception. Evaluation takes observation further by keeping an eye on the big picture. For example, “Last night was high energy” is an observation. Evaluation says, “High energy came at the expense of relational, we missed the mark.”) You can’t move the ball down field if you aren’t evaluating how the “little things” (program, event, retreat, etc.) connect to the “big things” (vision, values, strategy, etc.). Naturally, this assumes there a Big Picture has already been clearly defined …

PRACTICAL: A good debrief is like the Red Cross, it ought to provide real help— the kind that’s desperately needed. If an evaluation is too short, it doesn’t capture enough information. If an evaluation is too long, complicated, or cumbersome, you’ll never do it. A good debrief is structured just right.

DYNAMIC: In most situations, a few voices are better than a single perspective. Pull other people in to help with your evaluations.

REVIEWED: Don’t be doomed by repeating your past mistakes. Stand on the shoulders of your experience by periodically reviewing your past debriefs.

What’s missing from this list? What habit have you found to make for an effective debrief?


Here is a SHORTER debrief we will use for our weekend services:

[1] Over all rating, 1 to 5, (higher being better)
[2] What worked?
[3] What didn’t work?
[4] What, if anything, did we learn this weekend? (about successful programing)

Here is a LONGER debrief we use for our bigger things:

Reflection leads to wisdom. It’s worth thinking about the stuff we want to do well. Our people deserve our best, so let’s commit to getting better.

In just a few bullet points, what was the purpose/reason/objective of the event/meeting/trip/camp/retreat?

Include the agenda, both planned and actual. If there’s a difference between the two, make a note of why.

Attach the attendance list, leaders and students, both planned and actual.

On a scale of 1-10, was this event/meeting/trip/camp/retreat a success? (10=awesome and 1=very not awesome)

In just a few bullet points, briefly explain why you rated this thing the way that you did. Avoid PROS and CONS, you’ll hit those in a minute.

Was each element intentional? Was anything done “just because we’ve always done this?”

PROS: What was great? (and, what are the things that MUST happen next time?)

CONS: What wasn’t so great? (and, what are the things that MUST NOT happen next time?)

Anything else? What would you do differently next time?

What follow up is needed? Who is doing it? When is it due?

NEXT STEPS (spiritual commitments, gateway to primary program, etc.)
Missing People (those that should have been there, but weren’t)
Questions/concerns/conflicts
Thank You’s / Encouragement
Any other follow up action items

Promotion / Communications: Attach the promotion plan. Did people know about the event/meeting? What would you do differently?

 

SERMON: how to go deeper with your words

Most of the time, we talk to make conversation. Instead, what if we talked to make a difference? This sermon highlights what the Bible says about going deeper with our words.

DOWNLOAD FILES (PDF and Word files with notes, blanks, teaching notes)

Three Warnings From Jesus

Jesus taught the crowd: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

A little yeast, when worked through the entire dough, radically transforms the bread.

The yeast of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Some of the things they said weren’t true, they lacked a consistency believers ought to have. Presumably they had a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

In this short and simple teaching from Jesus, there are several warnings:

Hypocrisy is contagious. It is a lesson easily learned, because short cuts require less work. The hypocrite thinks, “I can just pretend to be good without actually needing to be good.” Hypocrisy is persistent because one hypocrite rarely exposes another, because they fear the same exposure. This is a network of relationships that says, “Let’s All Lie Together.” Hypocrisy is contagious and we must guard against it.

Sin is powerful (so is foolishness). Like yeast, it only takes a little to radically change the dynamic of the whole. You don’t need to lie ninety nine percent of the time for it to damage your life, 1 or 2 percent will lead to epic destruction in your relationships. For the Pharisees, their yeast was hypocrisy. However, I’m certain there are many “kinds” of yeast. What is one of your struggles, if it’s not hypocrisy? Gossip? Indulgence? Laziness? Pride?

Consider one more warning: the Pharisees were leaders in their communities. You may not be a formal leader in the church, but what are you passing on to others? Even the best parents pass along bad habits to their kids. Spiritually speaking, what is the “yeast” in your life that others need to look out for? Jesus was clearly teaching the crowd, “Don’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees.” Jesus is also calling us to keep careful watch over our influence.

Three Warnings:

Watch out for the negative influences, specifically hypocrisy.
Identify your personal “yeast,” if it’s not hypocrisy.
Be careful of what you are passing along.

How to find Significance This Season

The Christmas season is in full gear! The decorations are out, houses lit up, eggs are being nogged, and the fruitcakes are in the mail.

For me, over the years, I’ve discovered that I can get so busy WITH Christmas that I loose sight of the reason FOR Christmas. I have to be intentional with slowing down to make sure Jesus remains front and center. Rather than just surviving the season, what if we made it a goal to pursue significance?

Message Notes (PDF): how-to-find-significance

A great question about interpreting the Bible

A friend wrote a fantastic question on a Facebook post, what follows is my response:

THE SCRIPTURE:
The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)

THE QUESTION:
What does the psalmist mean when they say all harm? At surface level, such a proclamation does not align with my experience of reality.

Excellent question, here are a few quick reflections.

All scripture must be understood in light of its genre, that is, the type of literature. A psalm is a poem, which is, by definition, condensed language. This scripture shouldn’t be read as if it was a scientific fact. E always equals MC squared (I’m told), but the truth of this verse isn’t found in the literal, definitive meaning.

For example, if the only way to discover the truth was in the literal interpretation of every scripture, then the following scripture would mean it’s impossible for the godly to be submerged in water (which would be cool for Christian water polo players and a bummer for Christian Navy Seals) or burned by fire (this would be cool for everyone):

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isa. 43:2)

The only time everything is literal is in something like a scientific journal or detailed law codes…and even with millions of words to describe a thing, there is still the need for interpretation. This is why we have lawyers and courts and scientists arguing with one another.

But now I’m going way off the field, talking about things I don’t know about—law and science—so let’s return to the real problem.

If we can’t understand a scripture literally, how can we ever discover the truth? This is a slippery slope, is it not? Doesn’t this mean that everyone can interpret things however they want?

Not really. While language is flexible, it still has rules. Every word has a range of meanings. For example, STRIKE could be a type of pitch in baseball (go dodgers), or it could be the act of hitting someone, or it could be a bunch of people deciding not to work. The range of meaning is narrowed by context.

Our brains are amazing, we do this all the time constantly and we usually aren’t aware of it. When we remove the context, the meaning becomes more difficult to discern. For example, when I say “lead sinks,” what am I talking about?

The fact that lead is heavier than water or about some sinks that are crafted of lead.

Understanding a word requires understanding the sentence, the paragraph, the book, etc. To understand a word, you must “hold” the entire sentence (and as much of the greater context as possible) in focus.

Discerning a truth in scripture happens in the same manner. We must “hold” at one time, many scriptures on the same subject. This is why we must rely on the scriptures as a whole, and not just a part. When you admire a diamond, you don’t just look at one side. Instead you turn the whole thing around to see the whole thing sparkle.

At this point, we could look at several scriptures about God’s protection and the pain caused by the world. But that’s for another day.

Perhaps it would be more accurate (but less poetic) for the psalmist to write, “The LORD will keep you from all the most terrible and long lasting, everlasting, harm” … because ultimately, no matter what bad things happen to us, all (the important) things will be restored. Like Job. I don’t mean exactly like Job, it may not happen on this side of eternity, but on the other side there will be no more tears and no more death. (Ok, so I guess I just broke my rule in the previous paragraph and we looked at one more scripture).

The fact that the context mentions “evermore” supports this understanding.

But let’s back up for a moment. The psalmist is assuming the reader will still employ his or her common sense. “All harm” can’t possibly mean—literally mean— “all harm.” In the spirit of the psalm, I left that ambiguous.

More important than everything I’ve just written is the following:

WHY ASK THIS QUESTION? THIS PARTICULAR QUESTION?
It is a good thing to read a scripture and have a question. Too often we read scripture and falsely believe we understand it all. We need to pay attention to the moments when we say, “wait, that’s not true.”

What exactly does the psalmist mean by all harm…and why does this bother me? What is the HOLY SPIRIT trying to do in my life through the asking of this question?

For me personally, my mom died of cancer when I was 5. According to my dad she was a “strong believer” and even “led” three nurses to a saving faith during the final months of her illness. That’s an amazing thing, a great story. But it would be silly to ignore the fact that God allowed the harm to happen to my mother. She didn’t just die without being able to read this blog post, she was in terrible pain for the last two years of her life.

The difficulties of this world are a reality, and the Bible doesn’t hide this fact. It’s very honest about them. Sin is real. Jesus suffered. We will suffer. The Bible also teaches that God is bigger than the harms we experience (and cause in others)—at the end of time, we will be protected from all lasting harm.

ONE FINAL NOTE:
I’m a hack … all of this was a quick response … if you really want to improve your ability to read the Bible better by reading from the experts, check out this CLASSIC book: “How to read the Bible for all it’s worth.”

How do you remember what’s important?

This post isn’t about time management!

“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Practically speaking, what could it look like to stand firm and hold fast to the things God has taught you?

My nature is to be impulsive–this has ups and downs. One downside is repeated mistakes. I knew I’ll never stop being impulsive so I needed to make sure my impulses went in the right direction. Therefore, I needed to learn to how to reflect, the art of recognize mistakes and recording my learnings. I have my dad to thank for developing this habit!

When I was just getting started in my spiritual journey, I developed the practice of summarizing the things I learned into a single sentence. I’ve been collecting these summaries for 20 years (along with some of my favorite scriptures), and I read them 2 or 3 times a week. Some of these lessons were painful to learn and I don’t want to re-learn them!

So, I’ll ask again: what could it look like for you to stand firm and hold fast?

 

 

==== UPDATE ====

In response to Jeff’s request below:

early morning devotions — this is edited slightly, because some stuff would take too long to explain …

Three roadblocks to hearing God Speak, a reflection from Psalm 19

Relationships suffer when there is a breakdown in communication. If you feel far from God, when was the last time you heard him speak? Maybe you need to push through one of the following roadblocks that keep a person from hearing God speak:

Roadblock #1: Lack of attention to God’s Work

The Psalmist begins with a grand picture: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) We are often too preoccupied to look up. We may spend all of our time looking ahead to the next thing and we’re too busy to look up. Sometimes we spend our time looking downward at our own concerns and we’re too selfish to look up. There is so much more to life than our personal pursuits or problems! God is working everywhere, speaking to us always, we only need to stop and pay attention.

Roadblock #2: Lack of time in God’s Word

God’s Word is like an instruction manual, telling us everything we need to be successful in life—how to live according to God’s design. The Bible is also like a love letter, moving us toward a deeper understanding and relationship of God. The Psalmist reveals the benefits of God’s word: it brings rest, spiritual growth, joy, and vision. Have you ever wanted to see things more clearly? The answer is God’s Word. It’s no wonder that the writer says the Bible is more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. We can’t hear everything God has to say to us if we don’t spend time in God’s word.

Roadblock #3: Lack of submission to God’s Will

The Psalmist begins powerfully and ends personally: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

We may be moved to speechless awe when we contemplate the breathless beauty of creation, but if we are not submitted to God, it matters not. We may know the Bible inside and out, but if we are not submitted to God, we are missing the point. The heavens reveal knowledge so that we might change our thoughts so that they are pleasing to God. We are not called to serve others or ourselves, but to be fully submitted to God.

Join us at New Life Church this Week.

This weekend I am preaching on Psalm 19, “How to hear God speak.” Due to Pastor Ron’s memorial, we are canceling services on Saturday night (this week only). Join us at 9am or 11am on Sunday morning. Go to www.newlifepismo.com for more information.